TORONTO - Surging ebook sales now represent an estimated 16.3 per cent of the overall book market in Canada, a figure that caught even some industry watchers by surprise.
A new report by the non-profit industry group BookNet Canada finds more and more people are buying ebooks, and when they do purchase hardcovers and paperbacks they are increasingly getting them outside of conventional book stores.
The trends are outlined in a first-of-its-kind report by BookNet, which is based on several consumer surveys conducted over the first half of the year. The results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
"We were a little taken aback — even though we are in the industry and on the technology side of the industry — at just the sheer quantity of the shift in behaviour in regards to digital and online (shopping)," said BookNet CEO Noah Genner.
"We all knew it was happening ... but just the sheer volume and the amount of change that's happened in the last couple of years is a big surprise."
The report suggests one in three Canadians is a regular book buyer and purchases an average of 2.8 titles per month.
While ebook sales are growing, print sales still dominate, with paperbacks representing an estimated 56.7 per cent of the market and hardcovers making up 23.6 per cent.
Only seven per cent of readers said they bought both ebooks and print books, but they bought more titles overall — an average of 4.5 per month.
When it came to where purchases were made, only about a third were in book stores. About 27.5 per cent of purchases were online and about 30 per cent were at non-book retailers, including big box stores and grocery stores.
"The other big surprise (in the research) was just how much book buying was done as if it were another consumer good," Genner said.
"We were quite surprised to see how many books were bought with grocery items, with consumer goods and different category lines."
While Genner said the average number of books purchased per buyer has stayed about the same over recent years, the average price is creeping downward.
The overall average price was $12.84. The average ebook was $7.44, the average hardcover was $19.09 and the average paperback was $12.18.
While ebook sales still lag behind hardcover sales in Canada by about seven per cent, the trend is further along south of the border.
The Association of American Publishers reported earlier this year that ebooks sales had surpassed hardcovers and were within about six percentage points of paperbook tallies.
Genner attributed the higher ebook sales in the United States to the fact that the market went digital earlier. He also pointed to the success of Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and competition from other ebook retailers — including Barnes and Noble, which doesn't operate in Canada — that pushed digital sales even higher.